Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Susan Blake Tribute, 2/2/08

From Leonard and Helene Williams Lehrman comes this report on the tribute to Susan Blake held Feb. 2, 2008, at Court Street Music in Valley Stream. The tribute included showing a video of last summer's performance of the Booby Trap at Green Fest. The purpose of Green Fest is to build recognition for the work of wonderful activists like Susan, Leonard and Helene. We are glad to post this tribute to Susan, whose work at PeaceSmiths has been an inspiration to us all.

"Fifteen of Susan's closest friends came and together watched & listened to more than an hour of video and audio recordings of her, including but not limited to the 9 minutes played at the Jan. 20 Shelter Rock celebration of her life that had been attended by (by our count) c. 135 people. We began with the July 22, 2004 "Return the Light" Fundraiser (at which Susan spoke briefly, and enjoyed watching Lisa Fishbein singing her own new words to "Which Side Are You On?" Lisa passed away last Monday, age 51, so our event was in her memory as well as Susan's. (On Sunday morning, Feb. 3, at United Methodist Church of Huntington & Cold Spring Harbor, the choir sang "A New Wind A-Blowin'" by Langston Hughes & Elie Siegmeister. Siegmeister shared the same Jan. 15 birthday with Martin Luther King and Lisa. We dedicated the singing of the anthem to her memory.)

"Then we watched Susan's speech on Bob Goldberg's video of the June 24, 2007 Cedarmere ceremony at which Max Wheat became, in her words, "the People's Poet Laureate of Nassau County." It was one of the best prepared and best delivered speeches she ever gave. I was proud to be with her, sharing a blanket, that day. Richard Barnhart then read his own delightful verse tribute to Max, a copy of which we're looking forward to receiving, having previously received and posted here his tribute to Susan and her bicycle.

"Next we watched Susan deliver a 2-minute question at a June 23, 2005 Nassau/Suffolk panel discussion on the death penalty, in which she brilliantly summed up the interconnectedness of the death penalty issue with so many other issues today. Max remarked immediately that her words ought to be transcribed and made available. And so they shall be - perhaps we'll have them posted together with her Cedarmere speech, and Richard Barnhart's poem.

"Susan first came into our lives, attending our April 3, 2005 Long Beach Library concert, at which she distributed flyers promoting that June meeting. Two months and a day later, June 4, 2005, she sang in her only concert with the Oceanside Chorale, which I conducted, and which my wife Helene Williams captured on videotape. Watching her quick-change set-up stage managing (for which she got applause) and then getting into the screamingly funny character of Eileen in "Ohio," the Comden-Green-Bernstein Wonderful Town duet with Dorothy Martin, was simply priceless.

"Our first appearance at PeaceSmiths, a recital-cum-party Feb. 17, 2006 for my book, Marc Blitzstein: A Bio-Bibliography (Praeger, 2005) was filmed by Bob Goldberg, and contained a few nuggets we watched of Susan introducing us: She talked about the social significance of Blitzstein's work, thanked the Maldeb and Edgar Lehrman Memorial foundations for their support, and described her own identification with the autobiographical aspects of Blitzstein's radio song play about a composer seeking and finding a social purpose for his work, "I've Got the Tune," reading Elie Siegmeister's vivid description of it, quoted in my book. Our recording of that work, released on Original Cast Records (also in 2005), has been played (by Bill Propp) on WBAI. Copies of the CD were handed out yesterday as party gifts to all attendees, including one member of the PeaceSmiths board.

"After that came the Russian Scene from my & Karen Ruoff Kramer's E.G.: A Musical Portrait of Emma Goldman, filmed by Bob Goldberg Mar. 25, 2007 at the Long Beach Library, in which Susan shouted out the line "So why don't you go back to Russia?" and then played the simultaneous interpreter into English of Emma's confrontation with Lenin on the question of human rights (in Russian, which he insisted that they speak). Then came two numbers performed by Susan at NY Green Fest on the Ithaca Commons, videotaped by Craig Seeman, Aug. 12, 2007: first was Leah Fichandler's & Joel Mandelbaum's "The Causes Are Waiting for You," from the 1983 musical As You Dislike It, slightly updated by me (for Susan), in which she was joined at the end by Helene; second was "The Pusher Bra" from The Booby Trap by Sydney Ross Singer & me, which I wrote for Susan while sitting with her in the drip room at Dr. Michael Schachter's office in Suffern Oct. 4, 2006, almost one year to the day before she died. Cary Bair sang this with her in all other performances to date, but since he couldn't make it Aug. 12 I got to sing it with her. "Don't ever leave me... It must be love..." we sang to each other, with so many levels of both irony and affection such as I shall never forget. One-minute speeches by Susan on the importance of support groups and social activism concluded the NY Green Fest segments shown.

"Then we watched excerpts from the Aug. 10, 2007 performance of the Opera/Musical Theatre Special Interest Group of The Naturist Society at Empire Haven in Moravia, NY. Susan began and was part of the quartet in "A Song to Begin," with music by Gerhard Bronner, who also passed away just last year. Then she launched into the anthropologist's solo, "Where Is the Tribe for Me?" a comic tour de force, followed by the duet, with me, "Words, Words, Words" from Walter Marks's 1964 Broadway show Bajour. Max said in reaction: "I never knew she could be so entertaining!" Nobody did. But maybe if we can get these videos up on YouTube, more people will. A short solo from Capitol Steps preceded 13 selections from The Booby Trap, with Susan's joie de vivre and spirited, singing, acting and dancing holding us all mesmerized.

"The first performance of The Booby Trap in Susan's memory will be held Sat. May 17 at 2pm at Womanspace, at the Great Neck Sr. Center, 80 Grace Ave. in Great Neck. On Sat. June 7, at 3pm, we'll have our annual Court Street Music student recital & house concert, at which Helene will sing the first complete performance of my song cycle in memory of Susan, "Long Island Songs of Seasoned Women," based on 10 poems by 9 poets in the collection, "Songs of Seasoned Women," edited by Patti Tana. We had a preview yesterday of one of those songs, "Long Island Just Isn't Long Enough," on a poem by Marcia McNair, sung by our student IJ Merenini, who will also be singing it (among other things) at the Feb. 10, 2008 United Methodist Church of Huntington & Cold Spring Harbor talent show, and at the Suffolk Peace Concert at Cinema Arts Center in Huntington Mar. 2, 2008.

"The last recording we played was a phone message of Susan coyly telling us that she had unexpectedly become available to join our Seder (which she did attend) last spring; and we immediately invited all present to attend our Seder this spring. We're not sure yet whether it will be Sat. Apr. 19 or Sun. Apr. 20, and we're not sure how many people will be able to come, nor how many we can accommodate, but in the spirit of the Obama campaign, let's all think as positively as possible: 'Yes, we can.' "